Book Review: Absolutely Massive

Massive Attack Out Of The Comfort Zone
The Story of A Sound, A City And A Group Of Revolutionary Artists [Tangent] By Melissa Chemam
What is not in the title is ‘Bristol’, but chances are that most people will be able to work that out under their own steam. After all, Massive Attack have come to symbolize the creative verve of the west country burgh, so it makes much sense, certainly from the point of view of marketing, to present them as the backbone of the text. Chemam, a French journalist and broadcaster, has thoroughly researched the M.A. story, charting its ‘80s incarnation as The Wild Bunch through to the ‘90s breakthrough album Blue Lines and beyond, to recordings such as Mezzanine and 100thWindow. Extensive interviews with Robert Del Naja [3D] give a sense of the motivations and challenges faced by him, Daddy G and Mushroom, as well as early collaborators such as Tricky, in pursuing their goal of forging a new sound from the raw materials of dub, hip-hop, soul and electronica, which subsequently became weighed down with the naff, journalistically lazy baggage of trip-hop.
By way of introduction there is a general overview of Bristol as a city shaped by immigration from the West Indies and European countries like Italy, before Chemam discusses the foundations laid by legendary punk and reggae bands such as The Pop Group and Black Roots. It is written in relatively short snippets, which lends a brisk pace to a lively text, though there are moments when an interesting analytical door is opened but not fully walked through. The English translation from the original French could also be sharpened on occasion.
Inevitably, the overriding focus on Massive leaves less space for some of their peers and successors, and a central hurdle for Chemam is how to convey the importance of other works in the greater scheme of Bristol’s musical history. Sadly, that means a major artistic statement like Roni Size Reprazent’s New Forms is pretty much glossed over, and the idea of the sound of a city is somewhat obfuscated. Still, there is enough insight in the prose to make for an engaging, mostly informative read.
Kevin Le Gendre